THIS WEEK’S HEAVY ROTATION


Bitty McLean: Walk Away From Love
From On Bond Street (Peckings, 2005)

Montclairs: Hey You!
From 7″ single (Arch, 1969)

Captain Planet: Fumando
From Speakin Nuyorican EP (Bastard Jazz, 2009)

Big Boi w/ Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
From Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam, forthcoming 2009/2010)

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C (radio rip)
From untitled(?) (Decon, forthcoming ?)

Lupe Fiasco: Fire
From Lasers (Atlantic, forthcoming 2009)

Clipse feat. Pharrell, Cam’ron: Popular Demand (Popeye’s)
From Till the Casket Driops (Re-Up, forthcoming 2009)

I have a playlist I keep on my iPhone of all the songs that are at the top of my listening priorities but most of the time, I’ll add just one or two songs to that list every week or two (if I’m lucky). In the last two weeks though, it’s been like a deluge with quite a few things rolling through, including a few tracks that qualify as “today’s best things ever” which mostly means I put them on single-song-repeat and just gorge on them.

Top of that list is Bitty McLean’s cover of The Choice Four’s “Walk Away From Love,” a song most connected to David Ruffin’s mid-70s recording of it. Let’s first acknowledge that composer Charles Kipps penned an absolute gem here; it is such an incredibly well-written song about a someone who realizes that his relationship is fated to fail so he decides to “walk away from love/before love can break my heart.” But here’s what McLean does; first, he sets his song over the riddim from Alton Ellis’ “Get Ready (Rocksteady)” (which is one of my favorite songs out of JA so this already looking good). Now…McLean sounds like he’s 16 (he was really in his early 30s) with a very youthful tenor but Kipps’ words to the work to make McLean sound more worldly and this all comes together at the chorus where McLean hits that falsetto during “breaks my heart…” Listen to the song and try NOT to sing along (even if you cause small animals sonic pain when hitting that top note) when he does this. It is magcial to me – despite being a song about heartbreak, when he gets there, I feel positively euphoric. Best thing ever. (By the way, the entire On Bond Street album is basically McLean singing over old rocksteady riddims).

The Montclairs song has also been in heavy rotation; it’s a monster Northern Soul classic from the late ’60s that’s the best thing in this vein I’ve heard since first discovering Bobby Reed’s “The Time Is Right For Love”. I previously wrote about the Montclairs last summer but while the sweet soul on Dreaming Out of Season is lovely, “Hey You!” is on some whole other level. This has everything – great vocal performances, an irresistible uptempo track, and a general joyfulness that rings true with every snappy backbeat. Best thing ever.

Captain Planet’s “Fumando” was, once upon a time, a track called “Boogaloo” which was (and still is) a favorite play-out track (and, as it were, appeared in an episode of Entourage). “Fumando” subtly upgrades the original “Boogaloo” track with some added melodic touches but at its core, it’s still the same, bangin’ track of guitars, horns, flutes, claps and that crisp breakbeat he’s got popping off in the back. DJs – get familiar with this.

Ok, rap haters, feel free to leave now; the last four songs are all from upcoming hip-hop projects.

“Shine Blockas” comes from the long awaited Big Boi solo album that was first announced in 2007 but probably won’t drop until late this year if not early 2010. Hua was the first to put me up on this, first by sending this to me on some, “this is pretty good.” Then he followed up the next day with a succession of IMs: “I can’t stop listening to this” and “have you listened to it yet?” and “Dude, what’s your f—ng problem, this is fire, get with it already!” (ok, I’m making up the last one but I would have deserved it).

I don’t know what it is but Southern flows over soul loops is a good combination – see here and here if you don’t hear what I’m saying. This time around, it’s not Willie Hutch (though that would have been a safe bet) but Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with “I Miss You” (last heard(?) on Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life” (ah, back when him and Beanie weren’t beefing). I’m not clear on who produced this (google, you failed me!) but kudos on a nice flip of the Melvin that doesn’t fuss around with it too much except for the drum programming. I can see why Hua put this on repeat – between the ultra-smoothness of the track and Big Boi’s hopscotch flow this has “instant classic” slathered all over it. (I’m still forming an opinion of Mane’s verse but I was impatient to hear Boi back so I guess that’s not a ringing endorsement).

For Part 2 of “Southern dudes rapping over soul tracks,” please to see NOLA’s Jay Electronica (he of the “terrible name yet intriguing artist” sabor) rapping over a Just Blaze track that is just…uh, blaze. I’ve been wondering what the hell the Megatron Don’s been up to and clearly, it’s figuring out how to make a smooth ass Billy Stewart track sound like the world’s end.

And here’s the thing: that beat is like the least great thing about this song, which is to say, Blaze’s track is aces but holy sh–, I had no idea Jay Electronica could bring it like this. Even though this is a radio rip, with drops making it hard to listen through, by the time the song hits the last verse, I can see why Tony Touch rewound it to play back again. I can’t even transcribe it but *whew* cotdamn.

(By the way, this song encouraged me to go back and listen again to some of Jay E’s other works, including Nas’ “Queens Get the Money.” I originally thought it was a track that screamed for a drum track but I now recognize the simple brilliance of keeping this to just the piano. Hypnotic power. This user-created video understands this by extending that piano passage into a long instrumental before Nasir comes in on it.

Lupe isn’t Southern and Jimi Hendrix isn’t soul but whatever – “Fire” is a great pairing between the Chicago rapper and a Jimi classic that burns baby burns here. I’ll be amazed if they manage to actually clear this sample for use (see what happened to Fat Joe’s “Hey Joe”) but I hope they do. This sh– is a Leatherface mallet to the head; feeling the distorted mic approach Lupe takes here. Seriously, between this and the last two songs, 4th Q 2009 sounds a lot like 2006 (and I mean that in the best way possible).

…and just to complete that cipher, we have a new track from the Clipse and Neptunes, with Cam’ron cameoing. Straight up – this isn’t incredible or anything, just merely good but I’m willing to settle for that given how some of the Clipse’s other recent material was jaw-droppingly weak plus the Neptunes and Cam have stayed MIA for a minute. Cam’s turn here isn’t much to write home about (surprisingly) but the one shining spot is that beat. “Sparkling” comes to mind even though it also sounds like something the Neptunes might have hooked up years ago. Good enough is good enough.

(Oh, by the way, I have three CDs – two soul mixes, one Aretha special – all about to come up for the offering. It’s been a long time but I hope I’ve made up for the hiatus).

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